United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
WILLIAMS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on defendant's motion to
dismiss the Indictment. (Doc. 18). The government timely
resisted the motion. (Doc. 20). For the following reasons,
defendant's motion is denied.
August 21, 2018, a grand jury returned an Indictment charging
defendant with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by
threats and violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951.
(Doc. 2). The Indictment alleges that “defendant
conspired to obtain the property of E.D., namely the Internet
domain ‘doitforstate.com,' with E.D.'s consent
induced by the wrongful use of force, violence and
fear.” (Id.). On December 13, 2018, defendant
filed the motion to dismiss. Defendant advances four separate
grounds on which he asserts that the Indictment must be
dismissed: (1) that the federal government lacks the
authority to prosecute this case under the Commerce Clause;
(2) that an Internet domain name is not
“property” within the meaning of the statute; (3)
that the facts as alleged constitute only the lesser crime of
coercion; and (4) that the crime alleged could not be
completed without further acts by other individuals. (Doc.
19). Defendant requests an oral hearing on the matter, but
the Court finds that oral hearing is unnecessary.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b) authorizes pretrial motions
to present “any defense, objection, or request that the
court can determine without a trial on the merits.”
Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(b)(1). “A motion is capable of
pretrial determination ‘if trial of the facts
surrounding the commission of the alleged offense would be of
no assistance in determining the validity' of the
motion.” United States v. Turner, 842 F.3d
602, 604-05 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v.
Covington, 395 U.S. 57, 60 (1969)). “[T]o be
valid, an indictment must allege that the defendant performed
acts which, if proven, constitute the violation of law for
which he is charged. If the acts alleged in the indictment do
not constitute a violation of law, the indictment is properly
dismissed.” United States v. Polychron, 841
F.2d 833, 834 (8th Cir. 1988). “The defense of failure
of an indictment to charge an offense includes the claim that
the statute apparently creating the offense is
unconstitutional.” United States v. Seuss, 474
F.2d 385, 387 n.2 (1st Cir. 1973).
mounts an as-applied constitutional challenge to Title 18,
United States Code, Section 1951 (the “Hobbs
Act”), arguing that the federal government lacks any
authority to prosecute this case. (Doc. 19, at 4-9).
Defendant asserts that the crime charged in the Indictment
“can generally be considered to be a local crime,
” and that “[t]he impact on interstate commerce
of the particular actions and acts involved are de
minimis.” (Id., at 8). Defendant argues that,
because the actions he allegedly took had a minimal impact on
interstate commerce, the Commerce Clause does not empower
Congress to criminalize it, and that the Tenth Amendment
reserves authority over the matter to the states.
(Id., at 8-9).
I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution grants
Congress the power “[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign
Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian
Tribes.” U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 8. The
Supreme Court has defined the scope of this authority:
[T]here are three categories of activity that Congress may
regulate under its commerce power: (1) “the use of the
channels of interstate commerce”; (2) “the
instrumentalities of interstate commerce, or persons or
things in interstate commerce, even though the threat may
come only from intrastate activities”; and (3)
“those activities having a substantial relation to
interstate commerce, . . . i.e., those activities
that substantially affect interstate commerce.”
Taylor v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2074, 2079 (2016)
(omission in original) (quoting United States v.
Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 558-59 (1995)). Defendant's
argument, that the transfer of an Internet domain name has
only a minimal effect on interstate commerce, appears to
address only the third category. The Court, however, finds
that Congress has the power to regulate the transfer of a
domain name, and consequently to criminalize obtaining one by
threats and/or violence, under all three categories.
term ‘domain name' means any alphanumeric
designation which is registered . . . as part of an
electronic address on the Internet.” 15 U.S.C. §
1127. “The Internet is an instrumentality and channel
of interstate commerce.” United States v.
Havlik, 710 F.3d 818, 824 (8th Cir. 2013). “No
additional interstate nexus is required when
instrumentalities or channels of interstate commerce are
regulated.” United States v. Trotter, 478 F.3d
918, 921 (8th Cir. 2007). As a designated electronic address
on the Internet, a domain name is “part of ‘a
system that is inexorably intertwined with interstate
commerce' and thus properly within the realm of
Congress's Commerce Clause power.” Id.
(quoting United States v. MacEwan, 445 F.3d 237, 245
(3d Cir. 2006)). Accordingly, the federal government has
authority to prosecute this case under both Congress's
first and second commerce powers.
defendant's argument that this was a local crime with
minimal effect on interstate commerce takes too narrow a view
of Congress's authority under the third category of
Congress's interstate commerce powers. Activities
“may be regulated so long as they substantially affect
interstate commerce in the aggregate, even if their
individual impact on interstate commerce is minimal.”
Taylor, 136 S.Ct. at 2079. “When Congress
decides that the ‘total incidence' of a practice
poses a threat to a national market, it may regulate the
entire class.” Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1,
18 (2005). In Gonzales, the Supreme Court held that
Congress had the power to criminalize the manufacture, sale,
and possession of marijuana, even where those activities only
occurred within one state, because those activities were part
of a national market. 545 U.S., at 32-33. Similarly, although
the domain name in this case may have had a minimal effect on
interstate commerce (a claim for which ...